What happens when you add a billion people to the population of the United States? The answer is China, the country with the world's largest population with a staggering 1.3 billion people. China also has developed into the world's second largest economy with one of the fastest rates of economic growth. Early in his presidency, President Obama stated "the relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st Century". Or, more simply, China matters.
China's ascendance has been a part of dramatic changes that have occurred in the country since the end of the the Second World War. First was the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party following their victory in the Chinese Civil War. Under the leadership of Mao Zedong China embarked on a radical program of political, economic, and social change. These included the collectivization of private property, a program of industrialization known as the Great Leap Forward and an attempt to create a new Marxist culture during the Cultural Revolution. Opposition perceived or real was met with widespread state sanctioned violence.
By 1979, three years after Mao's death, there was concern even within the Communist Party that China was on the wrong path. Particularly, when it came to sluggish economic development. China's new leader, Deng Xiaoping, sought to challenge this with a series of economic reforms. These reforms rested upon the twin foundations of reducing the role of centralized planning and opening the country to foreign investment. After some time private enterprise was even permitted.
These reforms have largely been successful in establishing China into the economic giant it is today. China has the world's second largest economy with a gross domestic product of 10.982 trillion dollars. The country's economic success has been fueled by its enormous manufacturing sector, the largest in the world. Much of this production is exported abroad. The United States is China's largest trading partner, making the economic relationship between the two nations one of the largest and most consequential in the world.
The relations of the United States and China are shaped by the often conflicting economic interdependence and geopolitical rivalry. The two countries are major trading partners and that bond is likely to tighten in the coming years. Despite this both countries continue to look at one another with suspicion. China continues to seek to expand both its military might and influence, especially in Asia. China has numerous territorial disputes with its neighbors many of whom are American allies. Theses conflicts will serve as a counter acting force to continued economic cooperation.
China's massive size both territorially and in population and perhaps more importantly its stellar economic growth in the previous forty years have allowed it to play an ever increasing role on the world stage. This has presented the United States and others with both opportunities as well as challenges. The United States in particular must find a way to engage with China economically and politically without sacrificing any key national interests. One thing is clear, however: China is a nation that cannot be ignored.
2. "World Economic Outlook Database" International Monetary Fund, April 2016 https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2016/01/weodata/index.aspx